VOLUNTEERS at a red kite centre in the Highlands have vehemently denied rumours they are to blame for the spate of raptor poisonings in the area.
RSPB Scotland has reacted to “outrageous” claims that contaminated meat laid out at the Tollie Red Kites visitor centre in Ross-shire had caused the deaths of 22 birds of prey.
Their response comes as Police Scotland sought to reassure the public that enquiries are still ongoing into the wildlife crime investigation.
Sixteen red kites and six buzzards were located in a two square miles area near the Conon Bridge.
Following analysis of the birds’ remains, 15 – 12 kites and three buzzards – have been confirmed as having digested an illegally-held poisonous substance.
Post mortem examinations and toxicology work continues into all the birds seized.
The RSPB Scotland red kite volunteers have strongly criticised anonymous “rumour-mongers” who have attributed the deaths to contaminated meat being distributed at the visitor centre.
Local volunteer Andrea Goddard said, “It is completely outrageous. The poisoned birds were all found around Conon Bridge, some distance from Tollie.
“Most of the birds have been proven to have been illegally poisoned and we are awaiting confirmation that the others were likewise killed this way.
“These anonymous rumour-mongers seem to be attempting to muddy the waters and mislead the general public.”
Mrs Goddard confirmed that the regular feeding birds at the Tollie Red Kites viewing centre have all survived the mass poisoning that took place in March.
She added: “It has been a great relief that the regulars are still coming to Tollie. One of our tagged birds, who we actually call Tollie, and who first bred in 2012 nearby, has been a constant visitor and is currently busy raising a family. We know him from his colour-marked wing tags.
“We are also able to identify another three birds breeding near Tollie which have been visiting for at least twelve months. It should be stressed that the birds with wing tags which were killed were not birds that visited Tollie.”
Brian Etheridge who has monitored the Black Isle population of red kites for more than twenty years, said: “The people putting out these tall tales should be ashamed of themselves. Tollie Red Kites is run to the highest standards using methods that we have agreed with Scottish Government.
“We only provide top-up feeding for red kites and manage the spectacle for the public. There is plenty of natural prey out there for red kites and this is evidenced by their high productivity on the Black Isle, which is also at the top end of European range productivity with an average of nearly two young per breeding pair.
“The failure of the breeding population to expand beyond the Black Isle as it should, is entirely explained by persistent illegal persecution. The event at Conon Bridge is only the worst of many examples of poisoning.
“I very much hope the current police investigation is successful and we see the people responsible brought to justice. I would encourage anyone with information to contact the police or Crimestoppers.”
A substantial reward made up from various donations, including Crimestoppers, totals around £27,000 for information leading to a conviction.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland is continuing to work in close collaboration with partner agencies. Landowners and farmers in the local area are also continuing to assist police with their ongoing enquiries.”